Daily distribution of free healthy school meals or food-voucher intervention? Perceptions and attitudes of parents and educators
Abstract Aims To qualitatively evaluate the optimal intervention (food-voucher approach vs. free daily meal distribution), aimed at reducing food insecurity and promoting healthy eating among students attending public schools in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas. Methods We randomly assigned 34 schools to one of the two interventions: students in 17 schools received a daily lunch-box and parents in the other 17 schools received a food voucher of equal value once a month. All students were offered the opportunity to participate. We conducted 30 focus groups in all participating schools (17 in the meal distribution and 13 in the food voucher schools). Eligible participants included parents (n = 106), educators (n = 66) and school principals (n = 34). We qualitatively evaluated their perceptions and attitudes towards the program. Results Important differences were observed between the two approaches, with more favourable perceptions being reported for the meal distribution approach. More specifically, social stigmatization was minimized in the meal distribution approach, through the participation of all students, compared with the food-voucher participants who reported feelings of embarrassment and fear of stigmatization. Secondly, the meal distribution approach alleviated child food insecurity through the provision of the daily meal, while the food-voucher intervention helped manage household food insecurity, as vouchers were mainly used for purchasing food for family meals. Furthermore, the educational and experiential nature of the meal distribution approach intensified healthy eating promotion, while the food-voucher intervention was efficient mainly for conscious parents regarding healthy eating. Conclusions The meal distribution intervention was considered more effective than the food-voucher one. Hence, for interventions aiming at tackling food insecurity of children and adolescents, public health focus could be oriented towards school-based in kind food assistance.
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